How a land trust helped defend the ranch

Bill and Anne Trabucco loved the idea of living off the grid, somewhere quiet and remote. They’re passionate about farming and were thrilled when they found a place with over 700 acres near the South Yuba River State Park in California.

By Lorri Barrett February 4

The couple purchased the property, which they named Linden Lea Ranch, in 1994. Anne looked forward to raising cattle and going horseback riding in the rugged countryside. The couple eventually started working with a business that raises grass-fed cattle on open spaces. The business provides local, grass fed beef to hundreds of families in the area. Space for grazing is essential to the business — and space is a rare commodity that Linden Lea Ranch could provide. To protect that space in the long term, the Trabuccos donated a conservation easement on their ranch in 2001.

Only a few years after the Trabuccos donated their easement, someone bought 160 acres abutting their property. The new neighbor wanted to build a road across the Trabucco property to access his property. Though he already had access to his land through a different route, building a driveway along that route would be expensive and inconvenient. He argued that, historically, pioneers in covered wagons had accessed the property on old homesteader trails across the Trabucco property. He claimed he should be able to do the same and sued to get his way.

What happened next was a battle of the experts. The court heard testimony from 23 local historians, history professors and ranchers with intimate knowledge of the property. In his zeal to find facts that supported his claim, the neighbor left no stone unturned.

The lawsuit was a burden on the Trabuccos, with mountains of evidence to sift through and witness interviews to attend. Fortunately, they had the Nevada County Land Trust (now known as the Bear Yuba Land Trust) working with them and the case ended in their favor. Still, the land trust accrued over $300,000 in legal expenses, for which they held a funding drive afterwards.

This case, among others, inspired the creation of Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC. Today, a land trust faced with a lawsuit like this could rely on Terrafirma, provided the land trust was a Terrafirma member and the case was covered by the insurance policy — so land trusts can focus on the land, rather than court filings.